Monday, April 23, 2007


Review: CHURCH AND STATE, Australia’s Imaginary Wall, by Tom Frame (UNSW Press 2006)
Tom Frame, historian and writer, left a military career in the navy to train for the Anglican priesthood and was, until recently, the (high profile) Bishop of the Australian armed forces. In this little book (96 pages) he probes the complex relationship between church and state, especially in Australia, where the influence of religious organizations, lobby groups and individuals has increased the temperature of the discussion about whether and to what extent government policy should be ínformed’ (to use a neutral word) by religious dogma.
Briefly: Tom Frame reminds us that the Australian constitution does not formally separate church and state. He argues that some contact between the two spheres is both inevitable and, occasionally, desirable. But, yes, there are tensions, and, he believes, Christians are largely responsible for these.
This is really an ancient problem, as theologian Karl Barth famously reminded us: the state which God has ordained to keep order in Romans 13 is the ‘Beast from the abyss’ in Revelation 13.
Tom’s first words: Áustralia is not a Christian nation… it never has been, [although] public life has, of course, been shaped by a long and close encounter with Christianity.’ There’s nothing in Australian law (as there is in British law) which gives any privilege to the Anglican church or precedence to any religion.
Those who demand a strict separation between church and state (the Australian Democrats political part and, I think, the most vocal in Australia) are ‘separationists’, Tom says: they want to erect a legal ‘wall’ that prevents interactions from a fear that an éstablished’church might emerge. Thus separationists want to end any special privileges churches receive – eg. Taxation benefits, because, it is claimed, they amount to de facto recognition of Christianity. The opposite view is that because a clear majority of Australians declare some connection with a Christian denomination, some public reflection of the beliefs and values of Christians is warranted.
There are of course, extremists on both sides: some advocating a theocracy, others a purely secular state. And inevitably the backdrop of global religiously-inspired terrorism, church-state relations has become a cause of widespread anxiety.
Tom’s historical overview is succinct and well-researched. Ancient Israel was a theocracy: there was no administrative or political division between the religious and mundane aspects of life. Jesus was largely indifferent to Roman rule: ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; and to God what belongs to God’(Matthew 22:21). The Christian apostles told their people to live in peace with each other and with the powers-that-be, although when those powers stepped up their persecution of Christians, they were an evil to be resisted – but peacefully, and if necessary, through martyrdom. The state was simply the means to an end in the divine ordering of the world. But Constantine’s conversion to Christianity (312 AD) changed all that: Christian baptism became a rite administered at birth, and became a symbol of citizenship. For 1,000 years, 400 to 1400, in Western Europe, church and state were thoroughly intertwined – ending, in England, when Henry VIII declared in 1534 that the Pope’s jurisdiction did not extend to his realm. The English church was effectively nationalised and the church *in* England became the Church *of* England. But people like John Bunyan now suffered if there were not willing to conform to the laws and dogmas of the established church.
The first American settlers sailed across the Atlantic to get away from the strictures of state religions in Europe. For the first time we read of a ‘wall of separation’between ‘the garden or religion’and the ‘wilderness’of temporal government (Roger Williams). Thus began the practice in the U.S. of church leaders and politicians advocating separation: as Tom writes ‘the former for protection, the latter to avoid interference.’ Thus began a uniquely modern phenomenon: the idea of constitutional freedom *from* religion, leading one nation (France, since 1905) towards constitutional secularism. To Tom’s knowledge no other nation has similarly legislated for a formal and legal separation of church and state. Overall, 2000 years of Christian church history led French theologian Jacques Ellul to lament that ‘whenever the Church has been in a position of power, it has regarded freedom as an enemy.’
Tom‘s interim conclusion at this point (p. 47: halfway through the book): Ít is for these reasons that Christians must be encouraged to allow some distance between the church and state – for the church’s good, if nothing else.’’
I have only one or two minor puzzles about Tom’s approach. Why does he use the (evangelically-biassed) New American Standard translation of the Bible when he could have chose a more respectable version, like the NRSV?
After some discussion over the years, the words ‘humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God’ were eventually added the ‘draft preamble’to the Australian constitution (in 1898). Section 116 is the only section to deal with religion (it’s similar to the first amendment in the U.S.): ‘The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.’
Of course there has been public discussion about all this, when, for example Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to participate in any politics, or wars, or the Exclusive Brethren similarly forbid voting (but allow many dollars to be spent lobbying for conservative political causes)’, or the Scientologists arguing (1983) that they are actually a religion and should be exempt from government taxes that other churches enjoy. Then there was the Defense of Government Schools debate, and (Tom writes) ‘the subsequent legal argument highlighted the significant differences between the US first amendment and the widely held but mistaken belief that the Australian constitution provided a “wall of separation”.
Conclusions? Át no stage do the founders of the Australian federation seem to have been motivated by a sense that engagement between religion and the state was itself an undesirable thing’(Catholic academic lawyer Joshua Puls).
A ‘wall of separation’ is impossible to maintain. Church and State… are not two societies that can be separated by the erection of a wall between them. Religion exists within a society and is part of it’ (Dr. Cliff Pannam QC).
Tom’s cautious about right-wing religious influence on the political process in Australia (he’s referring to conservative groups like the Christian Democratic Party, Family First, and the Australian Christian Lobby, and Creationism/Intelligent Design): he is concerned about the absence of strong ‘ accountability to to the broader Christian community’. A socially conservative mindset does not reflect the mindset of all Christian traditions in Australia.
He’s also critical of ‘doctrinaire secularism’, which in its extreme form in the U.S. tries to forbid mentioning God or do any religious act in the public square. Doctrinaire secularism is not religiously neutral: it actually amounts to the promotion of a type of atheism as the unofficial state religion.
But, overall, ‘I have argued that interactions between the church and the state are inevitable, and, for the greatest part, no threat to the health of the body politic.’ ‘Christianity does not need political goodwill or financial support to survive or fulfil its mission…’ but secularists can sleep easily because [quote] there is no future prospect of a religious establishment in Australia and none should be encouraged…. Unlike the U.S. Australia does not need a wall of separation between church and state, and none will be needed in the future.


As a committed Christian who believes that religious belief should inform all of life AND that all ideas have a legitimate place in the forum of public discourse, I could not more strongly object to your remarks in the The Age, 14 November 2004 that you "respect" the role of churches, but that we should keep religion out of politics.
Given these comments, where exactly do you see religion playing a role, Mr. Latham?
I presume you it to remain a matter personal business. But my problem with your comments is that my political views ARE my personal business. That's MY personal business, Mr. Latham. NOT YOURS! Nor any other politican's. I'll be damned if I'll let any of you tell me my personal business - religious, political or otherwise.
Let me say that I believe your remarks demonstrate a complete ignorance of the entire point of the doctrine of the separation of church and state.
That doctrine is NOT primarily about keeping religion out of politics BUT about keeping politics out of religion (read the constitution).
It does NOT state that religious views may not inform political discourse BUT that political discourse may not dictate religious views.
The doctrine was NEVER intended to prevent free expression of religious views in the public marketplace of ideas. Rather it was intended to ensure that the public market place is open to influence from ALL points of view - even ideas that politicians like yourself might not agree with.
At the end of the day, if freedom and democracy mean anything, they mean the right of the individual to bring their personal beliefs into the sphere of public discourse REGARDLESS of the religious, philosophical, or political basis of those beliefs.
To reject that is to impose restrictions on the very religious discourse that our system of politics is supposed to defend.
Last Friday evening, 1 Sep 2006, Right Reverend Doctor Tom Frame, Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence Force and well known author and social commentator, addressed the 2006 "Christians in Defence" Fellowship Dinner in Canberra. His address, titled "Church-State Relations in Australia and Christian Fidelity", is available on the web site of the Military Christian Fellowship of Australia
For the direct link, see
Tom Frame is always thought-provoking, and he did not miss this opportunity either. Here are some snippets.
"The relationship between politics and religion, Church and State, have become an ideological battleground-once again. This time, the struggle is not between rival Christian denominations but between those with religious beliefs and those with none. There are those who are offended by any public displays of Christian faith and appalled that Church people would want to shape public policy. This makes the position of every Christian... a complicated, and even controversial, one. ...
The first followers of Jesus realized that faith in him was costly. He not only demanded their commitment in body, mind and spirit, being his discipline cost many their families and their friends as they suffered isolation and alienation from loved ones who would not walk with them in the footsteps of Jesus.
In the last decades, the church in Australia has moved from nearer the centre of public life to the periphery. There are those who lament and those who welcome this shift. The former believe the Christian cause has lost ground. Christians no longer enjoy political, social or moral ascendancy. Many clergy feel besieged or ignored. Whereas previously the church's position meant a great deal in national affairs and Christian thinkers were accorded a prime place in the public square, Christians can no longer presume they will even be heard, let alone heeded, in an increasingly indifferent and hostile society. Christians are one among many "special interest" groups vying for influence and the crowd's ear. For many in the church, it is now about winning a war of survival.
Others, however, feel no such angst. They insist that their 'alien citizenship' (a term used to describe Christians in 1 Peter) is better served by some distinction between the Christian community and secular society. Whereas Christians can affirm their participation in what Saint Augustine referred to as 'the politics of the earthly city', their true polis and their ultimate loyalty is in the Celestial City and with God. Loyalty to the earthly city is, therefore, joined to an allegiance that is usually viewed as subversive by those who do not share it. It will be 'God before Country' rather than 'God and Country'. ..."

Sightings 5/16/05
Collisions and Doubts
-- Martin E. Marty
Where to draw "the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority" (James Madison)? Or, less felicitously, where to maintain or breach "the wall of separation between church and state" (Thomas Jefferson)? When to make use of the line? Those questions are older than 1787, and today more than ever there are "collisions and doubts," as Madison called them. The line has always been messy, the wall has always had breaches, and this will always be so, as long as a dynamic republic shall last. Two newspapers on May 12 offered new examples of this fact.
In a Chicago Tribune op-ed, David McGrath, an expert on English literature and Native American affairs, complained about a 198-foot tall crucifix towering at the junction of I-57 and I-70 ("The Art of Jamming Beliefs Down Our Throats"). It stands "as close to the highway" as the state will permit, its glistening surface serving to "shout and bully with its message of Christian morals." McGrath welcomes civil controversy but finds this uncivil. And a photo of the cross suggests that it may be just this; it is overbearing, triumphalist, and more. What would Jesus do? He'd probably call such use of his cross "tacky." But where it is, is perfectly legal. If it is even as close as one inch from the legal boundary, all we can do is put on our dark glasses, glower with McGrath, and take refuge in more chaste visions of the cross and expressions of piety. Why? Because the cross is on private land. On public land it would be claiming privilege for faith over non-faith, one faith over others. Where it is, "any number can play" on equal terms.
Most misplacements of the Ten Commandments and crosses occur on courthouse lawns or classroom walls. Are these about religion? Since religion can be expressed on most private lawns and on church, home, and store walls, aren't these courthouse and classroom placements saying something political and primeval? "We belong, and you don't! We set the terms and you are marginal, unpatriotic, or wrong!" Such forms of "shouting and bullying" may be detrimental to faith and civic life.
As for the "when": The New York Times and then the Associated Press (on May 14) ran stories about Air Force Academy personnel, programs, and privileges, as well as pressures against most religions that do not focus on the "born-again" experience and orthodoxy. Details remain controversial, but charges are that anti-Semitism and anti-other religion mark some of the teaching on the premises of the Academy (the wrong "where") and during classroom and other teaching and publicizing time (the wrong "when"). Air Force Academy Chaplain Melina Morton -- who has to be trusted, because she's a fellow Lutheran -- says, "I realize this is the end of my Air Force career" because she protested and pointed to wrongs. In fairness, we have to hear more from Major General Charles Baldwin, Air Force chief of chaplains, who said the higher-ups merely sent Morton to Japan, far from Colorado Springs, and changed her duties, assigning her to serve there in her final chaplaincy days.
The Pentagon is looking into more than fifty recent complaints of religious intolerance at the Academy, and is assessing a report by Yale Divinity School professor Kristen Leslie. Leslie quoted an Air Force chaplain during basic training who warned that "those [cadets] who are not born again will burn in the fires of hell." Off premises and off time he can say that. On premises? Wrong.
Page two: Last week we commemorated Will Herberg's Protestant-Catholic-Jew fifty years after its publication, claiming that like all of us men in 1955, he made slight mention of women. But reader Bob Miller scanned the bibliography and footnotes of the book and found a dozen pioneer women's names, and a closer reading finds Herberg quoting British leader Barbara Ward on the first page. We are glad to issue this correction. Good for Will!
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at
The May Religion and Culture Web Forum, featuring "Red Medicine, Blue Medicine: Pluralism and the Future of Healthcare" by Farr A. Curlin and Daniel E. Hall, is now available at
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
[Baptist Press 2/11/98]
Christian role underscored in addressing public issues
By Nedra Kanavel
JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--Christians are called to stay determinedly active in the public arena to address the most pressing issues of our day, public policy champions said during a conference on faith and public policy at Union University, Jackson, Tenn.
About 200 people attended the Oct. 19-20 conference, titled, "Christian Faith and Public Policy: Where do we go from here?" and cosponsored by the Baptist-affiliated university's Center for Christian Leadership and the Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities.
The center's director, David P. Gushee, noted the first day's speakers talked broadly about Christian involvement in politics, while the second day's speakers addressed more specific issues, including abortion and separation of church and state.
On abortion, for example, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the abortion issue's divisiveness shouldn't convince Christians to avoid the pro-life effort, but rather, give them hope and encouragement to continue the "struggle for hearts and minds."
"We've won in some respects, " Land said. "Most of America is uncomfortable with abortion today. Abstinence programs have been enacted, and the number of abortions has gone down."
But the fight is not over, Land said. Laws in support of abortion are still in place, and those laws "have chosen death and cursing over life and blessing."
Ultimately, Christians have a choice to make when it comes to the abortion issue, he said; they can choose to emphasize individual rights (such as those of the woman) or emphasize the human life which God has created. "For those who say we can't legislate morality, I say explain the civil rights movement," Land said.
The most effective way to affect legislation, including that of abortion, is through "prudent and principled" activity, said Michael Cromartie, a senior fellow in Protestant studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.
One of the loudest and most accepted voices in the public squares of early America was that of the Protestant Christians, Cromartie said. But beginning with the Scopes trial of 1925, Christians began to shy away from the public arena, even going so far as to say that God's work could only be done within the church's walls.
By the late 1970s, Christian involvement in politics revived, but mainly because Christians increasingly felt the government was working against them rather than with them. "They see themselves as defendants, and not the aggressors, in the culture war," Cromartie said.
The most effective Christian activism, Cromartie said, nevertheless will come from "epistemological humility, public modesty and charity toward even our strongest opponents."
"The argument should never be whether Christians ought to be involved in social and political issues. Rather, the issue should be: on what matters should we be most concerned and what are the most prudent ways to express such convictions," Cromartie said.
Jean Bethke Elshtain, a professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School, insisted government and religious institutions cannot afford to separate themselves.
Ridding America's public life of any religious connotation is impossible and destructive, Elshtain said, noting: "Religion contributes to political life and its mores. Religion draws people into the community and away from themselves. Religion and politics cannot be separated."
To separate the two compromises the Constitution's promise of freedom of religion, Elshtain contended. "A private religion is no religion at all. When religion is destroyed, it's not freedom but bondage," she argued.
Stephen Monsma, professor of political science and chair of the social science division at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., said there are two theories struggling for dominance when it comes to separation of church and state: a strict separationist, no-aid-to-religion theory and an equal-treatment, substantive-neutrality theory.
Those who support the no-aid-to-religion theory hold that "the religious freedom language of the First Amendment should be interpreted to mean that church and state must be kept in as separate spheres as possible and that government may not subsidize or support religion," Monsma explained.
Like Elshtain, Monsma said he believes the no-aid theory's strict policy of separation of church and state is a detriment to American society. Specifically, Monsma argued the no-aid theory has driven government in some cases to withdraw its financial support of religious-based social service organizations.
"For the poor and low-income families, the results are often truly tragic. The poor have no choice but to make use of the social and health services provided by government agencies or by private agencies the strict separationist principle would deem to be sufficiently religion-free, even when those agencies are ineffective and lack any religious commitment," Monsma said.
Jim Skillen, executive director of the Center for Public Justice in Annapolis, Md., explained why government has a mandate to be just and why Christians must stay involved in public policy.
"The person, work and authority of Jesus Christ have to do with everyone and everything in all creation. Therefore, Jesus Christ has everything to do with government and public policy. The question then is how, not whether, Christian faith is connected with public policy," Skillen said in a chapel address to an audience of about 1,000. Skillen pointed out first that Christianity is not a stranger to the world's governments. In fact, "Jesus is not a visitor to, or intruder into, a strange land," Skillen said. "This world, including human political responsibility, belongs to God through the Son even before the Son's incarnation."
That means humans, and even more so Christians, are mandated to do what they can to ensure that government and public policy are fundamentally just, he said.
"This does not mean giving in to utopian expectations about human achievements on earth through politics, " Skillen said, citing several issues that Christians can focus on, such as racial and environmental justice.
"Wholesale, legalized discrimination against black or red people was a fundamental injustice, " Skillen argued. The challenge today is for government to protect against arbitrary, racist exclusion, not necessarily make people love one another," Skillen said.
In regard to the environment, Skillen pointed out the Bible clearly explains humans are to be good stewards of God's creation, including its land, water and non-human creatures. Christians, Skillen said, should advocate "good public law that recognizes the full value of land and water" and "the interdependence of all creatures."
"The attempt to clarify government's responsibility for protecting everything from innocent life to religious freedom, from precious resources to the rights of families, is something that should compel Christians everywhere and at all times," Skillen stressed. "This is part of our Christian service, part of the way we acknowledge Christ our Lord and seek to love and serve him."
John Mere's Commemoration Sermon St Benet's Church, Cambridge
Tuesday 20 April 2004
'We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ' (II Cor. 10.5)
One of the options afforded to John Mere's preacher is to teach 'due obedyence of the subjectes to their princyes and of pupills to their tutours, of servauntes to their maisters, with some Lesson for magistrates maisters and tutours for the well ordering of their subiectes servauntes and pupills.' Reflection on obedience is likely to be an uncongenial matter these days; but the evident need for endowed sermons on the subject four centuries ago suggests that obedience has never been that popular a requirement. To be told, in any age, that your will must be educated by submission is not a welcome message.
But it is not a message that can be easily or lightly ignored by the Christian. 'Christ became obedient for us even unto death, death on a cross': the antiphon for the offices at the end of Holy Week is still echoing in the ears of some of us. Salvation is won by submission, according to the gospel. But before we allow our feelings to be revolted by what so readily seems an assault on our autonomy, we should consider what the New Testament does and doesn't say about this. Jesus is obedient, and his obedience costs him; it goes against the grain of his natural human resistance to pain and death. Yet it is a conformity not to some alien authority, to a hostile tyrant in the heavens, but to the root of his own life. He is himself the mind and heart of God; as he looks into the mystery of his own origination in the Father, he acts out who and what he is - the embodiment of the Father's will for the healing of creation.
To imitate Christ in his submission is therefore not to do violence to your own proper reality, but to discover yourself as a created being - as a being whose life is grounded in the loving gift of God and nothing else. God's will is that you live; to seek obedience to him is to seek life, as in the great exhortation in Deuteronomy to 'choose life' by receiving and obeying the Law of Moses. And this too is why the apostles can say that their obedience is owed to God rather than to human authority when they are ordered to give up what flows from their life in Christ. To submit to God is to be most directly in touch with what is most real. To refuse that submission is not to be free of an alien violence but to become an alien to yourself.
And when St Paul tells his converts to imitate him as he imitates Christ, he sets out what is the most basic form of Christian obedience. Watch me struggling to watch Christ, he says; see what it means to try and allow the ground of your very existence to come to the surface and find expression in your acts - to make every thought obedient to the incarnate mind of God. It is a struggle because we have become such strangers to our own nature as God's loved creation. But in Christ we see how a created mind, a human self like ourselves, can perfectly become transparent to God's gift, so as to be indistinguishable from the mind of God the Father. By the gift of his life in the Spirit, we can begin to 'immerse' our lives in his. And we learn - as in so much of our human experience - by watching those who have got used to the work: watching those who watch Christ.
The way of the world is to learn from each other those habits of acquisitive rivalry that dominate our relations and breed our conflicts. As Rene Girard has reminded us, we learn from each other to want what the other wants, and so to compete with the other for its possession. But in relation to Christ, to want what the other wants is to want the Father's will - that is, to want the Father's desire for mercy and joy in all beings. We cannot turn this into a matter for competition. Our Christian obedience becomes the foundation for a radically fresh vision of one another. By looking to each other to learn Christ, by looking at another's looking towards Jesus, our desires are re-formed and liberated for life in communion.
But what has this to do with the obedience that John Mere wanted expounded for subjects and pupils and servants? Simply this: Christian obedience in its biblical sense can never be just a passive conformity to commands in the hope that this will somehow ensure a reward for us. It is properly an obedience given where we see authority engaged with a truth beyond its own interest and horizon - ultimately with the truth of Christ. The obedience of the pupil, at any educational level, is rightly and credibly demanded when the very shape of the intellectual exercise is visibly to do with a mind being pressed and moulded into truthfulness by a reality that has nothing to do with the petty power games that intellectual life can sometimes produce. The best teacher, the one who has most claim on obedience, may be the one who is at times least fluent and confident, most puzzled and engaged and troubled by the truth. The best master is the one who is most visibly mastered by demands and standards that have nothing to do with the serving of his own personal interests. If obedience is a form of attention, the attentive person is the one who should command obedience.
And this is why political obedience in our age has become so problematic. Eusebius of Caesarea in the fourth century was able to commend the authority of the emperor Constantine on the grounds that he was constantly engaged in contemplating the heavenly Logos. It was not even at the time a very plausible case; but he had at least noticed that any Christian justification for obedience to rulers must build in some reference to their capacity to absorb truth that is not determined by their interests.
Now we do not usually look in our rulers for signs of advanced contemplative practice; nor do we say, even as Christians, that no obedience is due to unbelieving governments. But we do say that credible claims on our political loyalty have something to do with a demonstrable attention to truth, even unwelcome truth. A government that habitually ignored expert advice, habitually pressed its interests abroad in ways that ignored manifest needs and priorities in the wider human and non-human environment, habitually repressed criticism or manipulated public media - such a regime would, to say the least, jeopardise its claim to obedience because it was refusing attention. Its policies and its rhetoric would not be designed to secure for its citizens an appropriate position in the world, a position that allowed the best kind of freedom because it did not deceive or encourage deception about the way the world is. It would be concerned finally about control and no more; and so would be a threat to its citizens and others.
Christianity does not have a general prescription about the best form of government. It is not (with due respect to Tolstoy) intrinsically anarchist, nor (with due respect to Cranmer) intrinsically monarchist. It does not commend uncritical obedience. Even in the days when Anglican political thinkers argued for 'passive obedience' to hostile government (i.e. suffering the consequences of non-co-operation rather than violently resisting), there was no sanctioning of active compliance with unjust law. But equally Christianity does not commend systematic revolution. It has been realistic about the human costs of violent upheaval and suspicious of any claims to provide an entirely new starting point for political life. What it does propose is a set of questions about political authority which direct our attention to what government attends to, and to the degree to which government is capable of acting at least sometimes beyond regard for its own controlling power (examples could be multiplied, but the willingness of the UK government to remit certain cases of international debt is a case in point of this wider attention). And in the light of the basic injunction of Christian faith to be attentive to the will of God as the most true and real element in our environment, paying attention to the way in which a government pays attention becomes a proper expression of obedience.
The argument is regularly heard in discussions of contested matters of policy, especially foreign policy, that independent observers (church leaders and the like) have no God-given expertise in strategy or economics that could outweigh government's resources of information. And the point is further made that we elect governments to defend our corporate interests, not to be global statesmen and stateswomen. Both observations - while they represent an understandable impatience with ecclesiastical generalisations - are misplaced. Government will always know some things that citizens don't and probably shouldn't; but this is not an argument for civic quiescence. Some citizens also know things that governments don't know and probably should; NGO's, churches, educators and health workers may know what neither diplomacy nor intelligence are aware of; and the demand that government attend to such informal but extensive knowledge is a fair condition for recognising a governmental claim on our attention as citizens. And while it is true that we do not first expect our leaders to be world leaders, a government that ignored the concerns of other peoples in our ever more tightly interlocking global economy would be culpably failing in attention. Our national interest is never merely national in the present context.
Christian political obedience these days, then, 'due obedyence' rather than just conformity, must rest on confidence in a government's capacity for attention; it merits our attentive loyalty in very much the same way as the tutor merits that of the student - in openness to a truth that goes beyond power and interest. This is not to expect of government an impossible standard of corporate selflessness and generosity; governments have popular mandates to fulfil, not simply programmes of benevolence and justice to implement. But part of the continuing damage to our political health in this country has to do with a sense of the events of the last year on the international scene being driven by something other than attention. There were things government believed it knew and claimed to know on a privileged basis which, it emerged, were anything but certain; there were things which regional experts and others knew which seemed not to have received attention. Forgetting the melodramatic language of public deception, which is often just another means of not attending to what is difficult and takes time to fathom, the evidence suggests to many that obedience to a complex truth suffered from a sense of urgency that made attention harder. Government of whatever kind restores lost trust above all by its willingness to attend to what lies beyond the urgency of asserting control and retaining visible and simple initiative; by patient accountability and the freedom to think again, even to admit error or miscalculation. Happy the person or the government that can simply find the right, the inevitable gesture that fully fits the truth of circumstances as gracefully as the scoring of a goal.
Christian obedience is intelligent obedience, a careful questioning, a reflective and sometimes challenging loyalty. Obedience has earned a bad name because of its use as an alibi for responsibility ('only obeying orders', a phrase with nightmare resonances after the last century); but if we begin with our central paradigm for obedience we shall see that it has to do above all with the labour of discovering what truth requires of us - the truth of who we are and where we are. Whatever may have been the theology of obedience in past ages, we cannot now ignore the democratisation of knowledge and the deepened awareness of how ideological distortions may be sustained in public life. If obedience is essentially attention, a kind of looking in order to learn how to act truthfully, it is right that claims to be obeyed be tested accordingly, tested fairly and thoughtfully, not out of a corrosive cynicism about power. This is what happens in the life of intellectual institutions; it is right that it happens in the social order. It is not that we need to claim the right to remake for ourselves every decision government makes for us; that is a trivialising of democratic government, though one that is very typical of our current scene. It is possible to accept a governmental decision as lawful and proper even when I disagree, because I recognise that a process has been undertaken that has some right to be called attentive. The individual citizen may be wrong; and in any case, has a vote at the next election. But without these processes being robust and visible and involving more than just simple governmental interest at any time, the authority of government suffers. It is not that we face regular campaigns of huge public disobedience; there may be a time for these, as in the Civil Rights struggles of sixties America, but they are rightly rare, confined to cases where government's inattention has become a matter of serious and lasting injustice. It is more that we face a general weakening of trust in the political system of our nation.
To be properly and critically involved in such a system is one of the forms of political obedience: it is to put the fruits of your attention at the service of government in order to stir their attention. It is, it could be said, the attempt to make political thoughts also obedient to Christ, implicitly if not explicitly. Today we should need persuading that we are in need of exhortations to obedience in the older sense. But we should not delude ourselves that the education of the will by submission to truth is any easier or any less important (the contrary, if anything). And it is incumbent on believers to argue for and to exemplify obedient attention for the sake of Christ and in the name of Christ in all places where it is threatened by haste and self-interest - beginning (need it be said?) in the idle and selfish hearts of those who so readily talk about it and are so slow to bring their own thoughts under obedience to Christ.
© Rowan Williams 2004
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS FAITH AND POLITICS: SEPARATION OR SYNERGY? by Darren Jensen of the University of Queensland Policy Vol.21, No.3, (Spring 2005) p21-27. Religious beliefs can guide politicians while still preserving the separation of church and state. Religious contributions to politics arouse suspicion because they often proceed from outside conventional categories of modern politics. Some (eg. Latham and Vanstone) have argued that religious contributions upset the proper relationship of religious authority and liberal democracy. But the use of religious references in public debate is not contrary to the Constitution or the notion of the separation of church and state (which has to do with establishing or preferencing a religion in law), and prohibiting such contributions would, in fact, preference a rival – secularism – as the state religion. Others have argued that religion has been used to attract a right-wing constituency by ‘baptising’ a political program. It implies a manipulation of the electorate when it is highly possible that the energy actually derives from community feeling that dearly held values are being dismissed by the political and intellectual elite.
The churches’ statements actually reveal a very modest approach in which the aim is not to rule, but to be involved with the main contribution to be achieved by individuals. Jensen illustrates this extensively by reference to debate about embryos, economics and euthanasia. He concludes that a synergy between the claims of religious faith and empirical knowledge is possible.
For the full article see Also see ‘Faith and Politics: the rhetoric of church-state separation’ by Darryn M. Jensen in Australian Religion Studies Review Vol. 18, No 1. For further information see

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